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How To Set Realistic Goals For The School Year

A quick Google search for ‘goal setting’ will provide you with a plethora of results from management gurus who talk about the five elements of effective goal setting.

They recommend having a one-year,  five-year, and 10-year rolling plan and to set check-points as to when you need to evaluate your relative success or failure.

I’m sorry – that just doesn’t sound very enjoyable or realistic, so I probably won’t do it.

“Think about what the things are that matter to you and paint a realistic picture for what you want to do, create, work on, and improve in all aspects of your life for the next eight months to a year.”
Greg Overholt, founder and executive director, SOS: Students Offering Support

But I have some food for thought: Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried textbook goal-setting, failed miserably, and since, have worked on a more realistic system that you may find useful (and something that actually works for my real life).

What’s the deal: Setting goals solely about the three Cs (Course grads, Cash, Career) is not fun and probably conflicts with what you want YOUR life to be about.

So, with September quickly approaching, take a few minutes to actually think about what the things are that matter to you and paint a realistic picture for what you want to do, create, work on, and improve in all aspects of your life for the next eight months to a year.

The key is making it realistic for your life. Not just the three Cs, but add some Fs in there (Fun, Family, Friends and Fitness) or whatever else is important to you!

Think about all the aspects of your life and write down your goals on a Google doc, a post-it note, or cocktail napkin, ensuring that you have it somewhere accessible that you can look at as often as you like (ideally once every two to four months).


  • Volunteer with an organization this year that will provide pertinent experiences to better prepare me for medical school applications next year
  • Hit a 9.5 GPA in my courses this year (as I have heard that CA firms want to see marks at least as high as 9.0)
  • Continue meeting new people, but by the end of the year, solidify a great friendship with my Top 4 closest friends by making sure I am taking effort to connect with them throughout the year
  • On average, take one night a week to have some serious fun
  • Spend less than $100 per week in food, partying, and personal expenses

Make sure your list is realistically representative of all facets of your life and not just the super serious ones – I guarantee you won’t reflect on this if its purpose is simply to think about saving, studying, and building your resumé or network.

Take the time. Think about what you want to reflect back on 12 months from now.

Photo credit: Goal Setting by Angie Torres on Flickr

Written by

Greg Overholt Greg Overholt (@goverholt) is the founder and executive director of the national student-led charitable social venture SOS: Students Offering Support (@SOSheadoffice). SOS is an organization where student volunteers teach their peers in exam-prep group review sessions, with the proceeds used to fund education projects in rural Latin America, built by volunteers on annual outreach trips. Since 2004, 25,000 students have been taught across 30 universities, raising more than $1,400,000 for development projects. Greg has spent the last five years since graduating helping 3000+ student leaders across Canada to "raise marks, raise money, and raise roofs" on their campuses.
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